A 7.3-mile moderate, 1600 ft elevation change, Mount Tam loop from Stinson Beach to Pantoll and back, that goes through gorgeous woods, high grassy slopes, and a lush steep ravine. Matt Davis Trail is a Bay Area Ridge Trail segment. Some sections of Steep Ravine are steep, but the other trails are moderate, with long easy stretches.
Hiking time: 4 hours.
Meeting Place: "Do Not Enter/Wrong Way" signs (see explanation below)
Getting there: From US 101 in Marin County, exit CA 1/Mill Valley/Stinson Beach and drive on Shoreline Highway to the junction with Almonte, about 1 mile. Turn left, remaining on Shoreline, and drive about 2.5 miles to the junction with Panoramic Highway. Turn right on Panoramic and drive about 1 mile to the junction with Muir Woods Road; stay straight on Panoramic (right lane). Continue about 7.5 miles (past Pantoll) to the junction with CA 1, just before the town of Stinson Beach. Turn right, drive about 0.2 mile, then turn right (at the fire station) onto Belvedere Avenue. Look for parking on the left side of the road before the "do not enter/wrong way" signs.
Side of street parking. No entrance or parking fees at this trailhead -- if you start at Pantoll the day use parking fee is $8. No designated handicapped parking, and trails are not suitable to wheelchairs or strollers. Maps available (for a fee) at the Pantoll Ranger Station. Restrooms and water at the beach, a few blocks west. Pay phone at the fire station, and the Pantoll trailhead. West Marin Stagecoach (http://www.marintransit.org/) offers public transportation to this trailhead.
Rules: Park is open from 7 a.m. to sunset (hours fluctuate slightly during the year). Bikes and horses are permitted on some trails; Matt Davis and Steep Ravine are hiking only trails. Dogs are not allowed in the state park.
Gas, food, and lodging: Restaurants, motels, and stores in Stinson Beach, along CA 1 just past Belvedere. More store and restaurant options, as well as gas, are available in Mill Valley at the junction of Panoramic and Almonte. There is a small, walk-in campground a few feet from the Pantoll trailhead, with very nice shaded sites, unfortunately situated close to Panoramic Highway and the Pantoll parking lot.Trail traffic: Moderate-heavy (near Pantoll).
Trail surfaces: Dirt trails.
Exposure: More shade than sun.
Season: Nice any time, but best in early spring.
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth (http://earth.google.com/) data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
The Official Story:
CSP's Mount Tam page (http://www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=471).
Pantoll Ranger Station 415-388-2070
Map/book choices and more information:
• Download the park map pdf (http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/471/files/MtTamalpaisBrochure.pdf) from CSP's website.
*This hike is described and mapped in60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber. Order this book from Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0897325087/bayareahiker-20).
• Redwood Hikes (http://www.redwoodhikes.com/Muir/Matt%20Davis.html) has a great map and descriptions of this hike, with gorgeous photos.
• Barry Spitz's Tamalpais Trails (order this book from Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0962071528/bayareahiker-20)), a book with a pullout map of Tam is a great guide.
• Olmsted Brothers' map, A Rambler's Guide to the Trails of Mt. Tamalpais and the Marin Headlands (order this map from Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0941969061/bayareahiker-20)) is useful.
• Mount Tam Trail Map, published by Tom Harrison Maps (order from Tom Harrison Maps (http://www.tomharrisonmaps.com/)). Comparable to the Olmsted map
• Hiking Marin by Don and Kay Martin (order this book from Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0961704497/bayareahiker-20)) has a good map and descriptions of this hike.
• The official State Park map is available (for a fee) at the ranger station.
Matt Davis/Steep Ravine/Dipsea Loop in a nutshell (http://www.bahiker.com/nutshell/north/stinson.html) -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.
View photos from this hike (http://www.bahiker.com/slideshows/north/stinsonpics.html).
Text above and below quoted from Jane Huber's Bay Area Hiker Web site.
"This popular hike departing from the town of Stinson Beach, strung together from Matt Davis, Steep Ravine, and Dipsea trails, is probably my favorite Mount Tam hike, and is right up there on my bay area top ten list.
The 7 mile loop features a bit of everything, with waterfalls, redwood, Douglas fir, and oak forests, grassland, canyons, and views galore. These three trails are some of Tam's best, and combining them into one hike intensifies their pleasures. Matt Davis is a masterpiece of trail construction -- the perfect trail through a spectacular landscape. The entire experience, from Stinson Beach to Pantoll (and back), is a joy. Steep Ravine starts out in a pretty redwood canyon and gets better with each step, as you descend past waterfalls and down a famous ladder. The hike only spends a short time on historic Dipsea,but this segment showcases fabulous, gasp-worthy views of Stinson Beach, the Pacific coastline, and Point Reyes.
I would recommend this loop for any season but summer.
Since Steep Ravine and Matt Davis are accessed by the popular Pantoll trailhead, these trails are crammed during tourist season, although you will find more peace early on a weekday. The first few weeks of spring are just about the perfect time, for that's when the waterfalls are still dramatic and wildflowers sprawl through both grassland and forest.
Begin your hike on Stinson Beach's Belvedere Avenue, just up the street from the fire station (although you could start and end at Stinson Beach).
A few steps past a "wrong way" sign, Matt Davis Trail begins on the right, clearly signed. This hiking only trail immediately steps onto a bridge and crosses a creek, where alder, thimbleberry, and buckeye thrive in damp conditions. Multi-trunked California bays shade the narrow path, and an invasive ivy greedily hugs the ground. You might also notice cotoneaster, a non-native shrub with red berries, and some poison oak.
At about 0.14 mile, you'll reach an unsigned junction. The path to the right heads to Panoramic Highway.
Bear left to remain on Matt Davis Trail.
The trail crosses the creek again, then reaches another junction at 0.16 mile, this one signed.
Turn right and continue on Matt Davis Trail.
The trail begins a moderate ascent, guided occasionally by wooden fences. Buckeye and California bay offer shade, and a creek provides soothing aquatic murmurs. You might see iris, forget-me-not, milkmaids, buttercup, and vetch blooming in early spring. Matt Davis Trail draws near the creek, then turns left and winds back uphill to cross the stream on a bridge. After a few more tight switchbacks you'll emerge in chaparral, where you can enjoy an initial view west to the ocean. Shrubs of silver lupine, toyon, sagebrush, broom, poison oak, and coyote brush crowd the trail.
Enjoy the sunlight while you can, for the trail quickly heads back into the woods. Big-leaf maple and buckeye trees grace another bridge where cascades of water rush downhill in winter and early spring. A series of steep steps curve uphill, reaching a pretty spot with giant rocks and lichen draped trees. Stone steps continue the climb, finally ending as the trail levels off to a more moderate ascent. At the Bischof Steps the trail curves right, under the shadow of a massive boulder, Table Rock. The creek is just a few feet off the trail to the left here, and shows off a pretty cascade. Matt Davis Trail keeps ascending, zigzagging up the side of the mountain through a wide canyon.
At the top of the boulder, look for a small sign pointing left to Table Rock. Duck under some buckeye to emerge at the top of Table Rock, a perfect rest or lunch stop with excellent views to Stinson Beach.
Back on Matt Davis Trail, Douglas fir are prominent on the hillsides, standing ramrod straight while California bays often arch themselves across the trail. You might also notice tanoak, huckleberry, poison oak, a variety of ferns, and in spring, trillium. Although those grueling sets of steps are now just a memory, there is one harsh 2-foot high step formed in the root of a Douglas fir. Eventually the trail crosses over to the western slope of the mountain, continuing to ascend in broad switchbacks. I saw lots of coralroot under the trees in March. Finally, Matt Davis Trail steps out into grassland. The hillside rolls steeply toward Ridgecrest Boulevard, but the trail curves right and keeps a thankfully easy pace as it angles east. The ocean is visible back to the west. Twice you'll step into the shade when Matt Davis Trail passes through creases in the hillside, then pops back out into the sunshine.
This grassland fosters blue eyed grass, California buttercups,filaree, and bluedicks in early spring. At 2.53 miles, Matt Davis Trail meets Coastal Trail at a signed junction.
Bear right to continue on Matt Davis Trail
(the following stretch is a Bay Area Ridge Trail segment).
The trail lingers for a few steps in the upper reaches of a wooded narrow ravine. A small seasonal waterfall descends from the left in winter and early spring. Back in grassland, the trail climbs very gently to a somewhat signed junction at 2.73 miles. Hawks are commonly spotted hunting near here. The path to the left climbs steeply to the ridgeline, while the path to the right ascends a few feet to a viewpoint. Even from the junction a view south emerges, encompassing the Marin Headlands, San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the coastline well into San Mateo County.
With one last sweep through grassland, the trail heads into a woodland of Douglas fir, California bay, redwood, and canyon and coast live oaks.In late winter and early spring a few seasonal waterfalls trickle down small gulches where maples benefit from damp soil.
You may see beautiful pink calypso orchids nestled close to the ground in late March. Hound's tongue and milkmaids are more common. The trail makes steady progress at a nearly level grade, toward Pantoll. Although the forest blocks all views, cars are audible as they drive along nearby Panoramic Highway. Matt Davis Trail leaves the woods for a rocky stretch of grassland, dotted with ceanothus and coyote brush. I perched on a trailside rock for a snack along here, not realizing there was a bench nestled in a cluster of chamise just around the corner. At 4.20 miles, you'll reach a signed junction near a small parking pullout on Pantoll Road, which runs here to the left of the trail.
Bear right, descend and then carefully cross Panoramic Highway. A few steps drop down to the Pantoll Parking lot (this is a large lot next to the ranger station).
Veer right across the upper lot, and look for the signed start of Steep Ravine, off a paved service road, at 4.25 miles.
Hiking-only Steep Ravine begins a descent along a canyon wall. Fences herd hikers down a string of switchbacks to the canyon floor, where the trail joins a modest stream as it travels toward the sea.
While the stream is still small the trail skips over the channel a few times, winding through redwoods like a slalom course. But before long, Webb Creek feeds into the canyon, transforming the stream to a more formidable waterway. Bridges ford the creek, which is lined with huckleberry, California bay, tanoak, and Douglas fir. Some good-sized redwoods loom overhead, and litter the canyon, necessitating a few ducks here and there. Look for trilliums, milkmaids, hound's tongue, and stream violets in spring. Suddenly you'll arrive at the top of the ladder, right beside the drop of a waterfall. I suppose some people descend it face first, but the wood is usually pretty slippery, so take it slow. At the base be sure to pause and look back at the falls. The trail, influenced by all this moisture, takes on a slippery texture, so use caution descending rock steps. A giant redwood which had fallen, blocking the trail, is notched with a square cut large enough to squeeze through. Steep Ravine Trail keeps descending, along the way passing another memorable waterfall, with a pretty pool at the base.
At 5.95 miles, Dipsea Trail heads left over a bridge, departing from a signed junction.
Continue straight, past an old dam, to another junction (this one unsigned) with the other leg of Dipsea, at 6.00 miles.
Turn right. The trail ascends, following a small pipeline, and reaches another junction, this one signed.
Continue straight on Dipsea Trail. Dipsea rises through a jumble of plants, with Douglas fir and coyote brush prominent. At 6.06 miles, you'll reach yet another junction with a fire road.
Continue straight on Dipsea. Closed to equestrians and cyclists, Dipsea ascends a little, crests, then descends easily. The initial view after the crest is breathtaking -- the ocean, Stinson Beach, Bolinas Lagoon, and the mountains of Point Reyes sprawl at your feet. At 6.18 miles, Dipsea crosses Hill 640 Fire Road.
Springtime flowers include checkerbloom, wild radish, blue and white lupine, and California poppy. The trail dips into a damp area where you might see or hear quail. Traffic on nearby Panoramic squelches the mood a bit.
Dipsea begins descending at a more moderate grade, through shrubs of coyote brush and purple bush lupine. Suddenly the trail turns into the woods, with a creek on the right. Some gnarled buckeyes stand along the trail, along with California bay, hazelnut, and currant. A boardwalk ushers you through a sunny spot where willow and twinberry bushes grow. At 7.07 miles, Dipsea approaches Panoramic Highway.
Carefully cross, then pick up the signed trail again on the opposite side.
Cotoneaster overwhelms the sides of the trail. At 7.19 miles, Dipsea plops you out on the side of CA 1.
With caution, walk along the side of the road to Belvedere Avenue. Turn right and return to the trailhead."
Total distance: 7.30 miles
Text above quoted from Jane Huber's Bay Area Hiker Web site.